How to Read Like a Writer

Last week we talked about deliberately expanding outside what we think we know about writing and stretching our ideas of what it means to write. We talked about learning to write by trying new things, looking at the world in a new way, and paying attention to how we say things instead of just saying them.

I promised that I was going to give you some ideas on how to begin this kind of learning. Here we go!

Study

Eek what a terrible word! Weren’t we all done with studying when we finished school? Never! If you want to expand your skill as a writer you are never done studying. Do you think Arthur Rubenstein did his first concert and then quit practicing? Thought to himself, “I know everything there is to know about this piano playing thing now…” He definitely didn’t. Writing is a craft remember? Studying is important! Musicians study their craft, scientists and doctors study their craft, athletes study their craft. All those people are always learning new things about what they do. So should we! But maybe studying isn’t as awful as you think it is. You’re probably doing it already, you just haven’t realized it.

Read

If you’re a writer you probably love to read and that’s the most effective kind of studying you can do. Read. Read. Read. READ! While you’re reading you’re learning how to write. Even when you aren’t paying attention you’re absorbing the cadences, the metaphors, the tone, and the subtleties of the craft.

Read Differently

“I’m already reading,” you say, “I read more than anyone I know!” I’m sure you do, but if you want to be a great writer, read more, but read differently. This is where the expansion comes in. What are you reading? How are you reading? What are you noticing while you’re reading? You’re probably really comfortable with certain kinds of authors, certain genres, certain subjects, certain voices. Expansion is all about pushing past what’s comfortable. When we’re comfortable we aren’t learning.

“When we’re comfortable we aren’t learning.”

Try this: Look at the books you’ve read in the last year. You do keep a list right? Do you see any themes? Any similarities? What about what’s missing from that list? What are you NOT reading?

Three years ago I took an honest look at what I was reading and realized that everything I had read FOR A YEAR (and I read a LOT) was written by white middle class men. I didn’t look farther back than that but I’m sure that pattern held true for a really long time. White middle class men are lovely, I’m married to one, but how much more could I have been learning about the world and the craft of writing if I’d been expanding my reading beyond that one limited point of view? Ever since then, I’ve made a point of expanding my reading and my writing has changed dramatically as a result. Here’s the thing: there’s not only one way to write, but if we only read one kind of writing, we think there is. We get stuck in it and we don’t give ourselves the tools or the freedom to become the writer we actually are.

“There’s not only one way to write, but if we only read one kind of writing, we think there is.”

THIS WEEK’S ASSIGNMENT:
  • Notice what you’ve been reading. Don’t judge yourself while you’re doing it! There are no rules about what you’re supposed to be reading.
  • Read something different from what you usually read. Pick a different genre, a different kind of author, a different point of view. Really push yourself outside what feels comfortable.
  • Pay attention while you’re reading. How does it feel to read this new kind of writing? Are you uncomfortable? Why? What do you like or not like about the way the author writes? How is this piece of writing different from your usual reading?

Thanks for coming along with me on this writing journey. I’m reading with you! This week I’m reading Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad because I meant what I said, push yourself outside what’s comfortable. It’s the only way to learn anything.

Let me know what you’re reading and learning in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

-Laurie, HF Associate Editor

Image Credit  Tadas Mikuckis


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